The Mistress of Downing Street
Michael Joseph, London, 1972
The blurb on the back:
In the 1990s the beautiful Viola Jones becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain in succession to her husband, who has been murdered.
The British Prime Minister is assassinated by a robot, and the Cabinet chose his 25-year-old widow, currently the Minister of Tranquillity & Leisure, to take his place. (Incidentally, isn’t it revealing that these ‘first woman Prime Minister’ novels have to evolve such elaborate strategies for getting their woman in? No one seems to have considered the more direct route: a woman is elected leader of her party and then wins a General Election.) Being a woman, of course, it isn’t long before she’s developing a new approach to international relations by hopping into bed with both the American President, Bloxham Fabergé (first black President, by the way) and the Soviet Prime Minister, Anatoli Granovsky. Meanwhile dissatisfied male politicians and their allies are conspiring to overthrow her, driven on by the man whose robotic industrial empire controls most of the ‘free world’.
If it all sounds a bit trashy, that’s because it is, but in a fun kind of way. There are some great little gags, including the Cabinet Secretary being named Sir Lumley Glumley, and there are some neat inversions: Russia has embraced the principles of a capitalist economy, while the West is so dominated by a single corporation that competition has virtually ceased to exist, leaving America and Europe as monolithic quasi-fascist states. I also liked the idea that nuclear weapons have been negotiated away, so Mongolia – still occupied by the Chinese – is in a pretty powerful position when it is rumoured that they have acquired a single bomb. And I enjoyed moments like this, where the French President (M. de Brie) is explaining why Britain should stop trying to disrupt the brave new world:
But, despite these bits, I have to say that as a whole it doesn’t really hang together too well. It fails to grip somehow. Which leaves it as a sporadically entertaining piece, primarily of historical interest.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 4/5
The Day of the Women